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Prevention Strategies

Understand Tanning Risks

Popular culture has taught many Americans to think they look better with a tan. Unfortunately, ultraviolet (UV) rays from both the sun and tanning beds cause premature aging and wrinkles and are linked to the development of skin cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

There is really no such thing as a healthy tan. A suntan is actually skin damage. This occurs because the body produces melanin, the pigment in your skin, in an attempt to protect itself from the damaging UV rays.

Tanning Beds

Enjoying the beach

It is a common misconception that tanning beds are a safe alternative to sunbathing. Tanning beds are as dangerous as exposure to the sun, because UV from tanning beds is the same as UV from the sun. In fact, many tanning beds have the capacity to emit levels of UV radiation many times stronger than the mid-day summer sun. A twenty-minute session in a tanning bed is the equivalent to several hours of exposure outdoors. A recent review of research showed that men and women who have ever used tanning beds were 15 percent more likely to develop melanoma, and 75 percent more likely to develop melanoma if they used tanning beds before they were 35.1

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), and the World Health Organization(WHO) acknowledge that all types of tanning are dangerous. The WHO has placed tanning beds in the highest cancer risk category, labeled "carcinogenic to humans," and recommends that "no person under the age of 18 should use a tanning bed," and discourages people from intentionally tanning in the sun.2 Thirty-three states have enacted legislation restricting access to tanning beds by minors.3

Safe Alternatives to Tanning

Fortunately for those who want to look tan, there are safe alternatives to UV rays. Many salons offer spray-on tanning and self-tanning lotions are inexpensive and widely available in most grocery and drug stores. There are currently no scientific recommendations about self-tanning creams that say what the long-term risks might be if you use them.

Self-tanning creams merely color the skin and do not contain sunscreen. If you are using a self-tanner, remember to still practice sun safety when outdoors by doing things like wearing protective clothing, a hat, sunglasses or goggles, and sunscreen.

Use these resources to learn about the dangers of tanning:
AAD- Indoor tanning fact sheet
WHO- Sunbeds, tanning and UV exposure
FDA: The Risks of Ultraviolet Rays

1: AAD
2: FDA
3: National Conference of State Legislatures